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COVER STORY | Vol. 8, No. 24, June 14, 2007
(Who's The Man?)

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Who's the Man?

by Duwayne Escobedo

The Pensacola Area's Top 50 Most Influential and Powerful

Fred Levin has just finished an interview with Madison Square Garden TV about Roy Jones Jr.'s upcoming fight July 14 in Biloxi, Miss., against undefeated Anthony Hanshaw.

Jones is trying to prove he's still the pound-for-pound best boxer.

Levin isn't trying to prove anything on a recent Friday afternoon, except that the Merck drug company's Vioxx is a hazardous arthritic painkiller that leads to a high incidence of heart attacks and strokes.

The prominent trial attorney has held national records for jury verdicts involving wrongful death and personal injury, wrote the legislation that produced Florida's $13.2 billion settlement with major tobacco companies over healthcare costs, donated $10 million to the University of Florida law school that now bears his name and managed Jones' boxing career and built a 150-member, nationally recognized law firm.

What is there for Levin to prove?

In his spacious corner office on the sixth floor in downtown Pensacola, pictures of famous people like Muhammad Ali with former governor Lawton Chiles spot his office. He talks of recently meeting with his friend "Johnny" Edwards, a 2008 Democratic presidential candidate, in Pensacola.

"He thinks he's going to win. They all do," Levin says, laughing.

For an hour, the most influential and powerful man in Pensacola talks to the Independent News about his hometown, managing Roy Jones Jr.'s boxing career, the Florida Bar Association's investigations of him, how the former dean of the state senate W.D. Childers is handling prison and being Pensacola's ping-pong champion once.

IN: Are you the most influential and powerful person in Pensacola?
LEVIN: No. I've had some impact. I think image is a helluva lot stronger than reality. I guess, image-wise people may think that. But I consider myself to be just a regular old guy who has a couple of drinks every night with my friends. They are not the country club type.

IN: What do you think of the changes and growth in Pensacola?
LEVIN: It's like when you see someone every day—I've been here all my life—you don't see the changes. Just yesterday, Reubin Askew came by my office. He and his wife said downtown has changed so much. They said it was much better. Going over to Pensacola Beach, you see Portofino going up. Those are world-class places. It makes me think of Las Vegas. It's first class. If you're going to show off something in Pensacola that's the place to take people to. Otherwise, there's not a lot to show in Pensacola.

IN: Is Pensacola losing ground to its neighboring cities along the Gulf Coast?
LEVIN: From an industry standpoint, we seem to get upset that Alabama is getting all the big major industry. But Florida is not looking for that. We need to go after intellectual capital. We need to recognize that tourism is our main industry. We need to bring in more things for tourists to do. I think Pensacola could do a lot more with its history to bring people in.

IN: What is your greatest achievement in your career? Is it your writing of the Florida Medicaid Third Party Recovery Act in 1994 that allowed Florida to recover expenditures from the tobacco industry to treat illnesses caused by cigarette smoking and resulted in a $13.2 billion settlement for the state?
LEVIN: Some say I passed the most significant piece of healthcare legislation ever passed in this country. The net effect is by the year 2015 it will save 100,000 American lives a year. That's as many Americans lives lost in both the Korean and Vietnam conflicts combined. Once we passed it, every state was doing it then. The tobacco companies caved in.

IN: Is the state spending that money wisely?
LEVIN: No, no, no. When we passed the tobacco legislation the purpose was for $20 to $30 million to be spent on educating young people and it was very effective. But the state just used the money just like when it passed the lottery and said they would use it for education. They cut money from the general budget and put it elsewhere. I think they're going to go back to spending the money on what they're supposed to. I'll never forget one commercial they did, though. All these young people in a car go up to Phillip Morris and ask to see the Marlboro man. They tell the kids to get out of there. But the kids want to see the Marlboro man. They tell them no and say the Marlboro man died. They ask what did he die from and they answer lung cancer.

IN: How did you get into boxing?
LEVIN: My brother Stanley was very much involved in the Boys Club. Roy Jones Sr. was very much involved in it with Roy Jr. Roy Jones Sr. wasn't very happy with the boxing community. He came to see me about representing his son. I'm not one to hide from public relations. I saw an opportunity to get some publicity. It was around the time Roy Jr. should have gotten the gold medal in the '88 Olympics. He came to me right after the Olympics and I started representing him. Twelve years later, Roy Jr. was voted by International Boxing Digest as the greatest pound for pound boxer in the 20th century. That's over Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, all of them. I was twice named national boxing manager of the year. To be considered a great manager you have to get great boxers. I was fortunate to have that happen with Roy Jones Jr. and Ike Quartey.

IN: Are you still involved in boxing?
LEVIN: Boxing is an aggravation. I thought I would stay out of it. But in the last few months I've started representing Juan Diaz. He's 22. He happens to hold two lightweight titles—WBA and WBO. He's an excellent student at the University of Houston and wants to be a lawyer. He's just an outstanding young man. They asked him at a press conference a few weeks ago what advice he would give young boxers. He told them to stay in school and listen to their parents. Usually in boxing you have to get permission from some kid's probation officer to go out of town for a fight. With this kid you have to get permission form his professors to be out there. What we need to bring boxing back is men like that. He's not a thug type. He has class like an Ali.

IN: You're not a boxer but you've had your share of fighting and controversy, such as ethics charges from the Florida Bar when you were quoted saying the insane were running the asylum when former Escambia County Commissioner W.D. Childers was sentenced to 60 days in jail for a Sunshine Law violation. How do you handle it?
LEVIN: What comes with all the benefits and all the awards is the controversy. I've had five attempts by the Florida Bar to bring charges against me. All the charges were nonsense and none of them were deserved. I hate to use the word ridiculous, but it was ridiculous. I don't know of any other attorney who's more concerned about his clients and does a better job representing his clients than I do. You look around and see just in this county there are lawyers who are drug addicts, stealing from their clients and lawyers who don't really care about their clients. You see these things going on and the bar comes after me? I think there's a lot more to it whether it's envy or jealousy. It's absolutely ridiculous.

IN: Last year, First District Court of Appeal Judge Michael Allen wrote in a concurring opinion refusing to ask the Florida Supreme Court to consider W.D. Childers' appeal, that his fellow judge, Charles Kahn should have removed himself because he once worked with you. He wrote a scathing attack on Kahn and you. What did you think of Judge Allen's rant?
LEVIN: The Judicial Qualifications Commission brought charges to remove him from office about two or three weeks ago. It seems I'm the one out there they want to shoot at. I don't understand it.

IN: Have you visited Childers since he lost his appeal last year and began serving his 3 ½ year prison sentence on bribery charges, stemming from Escambia County land purchases while he was a commissioner?
LEVIN: No, but I've stayed in contact with him. His daughter sends out e-mails. As expected, he's handling it really, really well, way better than I could. He commented how good the food is. I love food but I don't think I could handle jail food. Without a doubt his case should have been overturned. He always told me he didn't do it. I do know this, even with that Banty Rooster reputation, he was probably as easy a mark as I ever met. W.D. brought this on himself. He would do things that hurt people, not realizing that he did so. So he made enemies. When the opportunity presented itself, they jumped him.

IN: You also represented Jake Horton in another infamous case. The former Gulf Power vice president was under investigation by a federal grand jury for alleged tax fraud and graft. He died in a plane crash in 1989. What do you think of that case?
LEVIN: You could write a book about that situation.

IN: You mentioned back then finding three dead yellow birds outside your home and office that you took as a Mafia-style warning not to divulge your conversations with Horton. Did you fear for your life?
LEVIN: Not really. It was just another of many, many events that's taken place. The whole thing, you could just write a book. When I testified in federal court they put a bulletproof vest on me. I've had threats on my life. And this one time there was this crazy guy who called asking me for $10,000 or he would show pictures of Roy Jones and me with young girls and snorting cocaine. Another time a guy came up behind me with a gun—I didn't see him—because I turned over his case to one of my associates.

IN: Would you rather be something other than a trial lawyer?
LEVIN: I'd love to be a great athlete. I laugh because I was the 12-year-old ping-pong champion of Pensacola. I beat one of the Catons for the championship.

IN: What are you most thankful for?
LEVIN: I have great kids and grandchildren. They're doing well and I have a lot to be proud of. I'm not a great father. I would not be considered father of the year. I've enjoyed this and I've enjoyed that. I've received a helluva lot more awards and a lot more credit than I deserve. I've taken advantage. But family activities suffer. I'm fortunate to have turned out a family as good as I have. It's not my doing. I missed ball games and graduations. I look back at my age—70—and I missed an awful lot of family things. Of eight college graduations and four high school graduations, I made one high school one and one college. When my daughter Marci graduated law school, I was at the Kentucky Derby that same day. It's too late for me to make up for being a lousy father. I do do things with my grandchildren. I just got back last weekend from taking my three daughters and two granddaughters to New York and Boston. I'm going to take all the grandsons to a football game at the University of Florida this fall.

IN: Do you think this law firm you've helped build since you graduated law school in 1961 will keep your name when you're gone?
LEVIN: I've thought about it. I assume they'll keep my name even if there's maybe not a Levin here. Only one of my grandchildren is old enough to make up his mind about what he wants to do, my grandson, Brenton. Both of his parents are circuit court judges. He'd make a good lawyer. So, I've thought about that fact. I'm assuming they will keep the name, especially when the University of Florida law school will forever have my name on it. You're making me reflect. I've had so much luck in everything. In the tobacco thing, it all came about in British Columbia when I was drinking and smoking at a bar and some guy made the suggestion. In politics, I just happened to be Reubin Askew's law partner. He came from nowhere to be governor. Suddenly, people were saying, "Those guys were the only ones supporting him. They must be political geniuses." Everything I've gotten in life I've had an awful lot of luck. Roy Jones fell in my lap. The tobacco legislation fell in my lap. Politics fell in my lap and everything else. I think I'm lucky.

No. 2 Lacey Collier
About: Lacey Collier is currently a U.S. District Court judge and chairman of the Community Maritime Park Associates, which is overseeing the $70 million development on Pensacola's downtown waterfront. After a 20-year career in the U.S. Navy, Collier went to Florida State law school, earning his degree in 1977. He became a First Judicial Circuit Court Judge in 1984 and just seven years later was selected as a federal judge.

What Achievement are you most proud of? "Snoezelen. You can't help but be moved by all the kids. I don't think a single person believed it could be done. I'd like to tell you I did. But, frankly, I thought, 'This is impossible.' You have to see it to believe it. Visitors from all over the world have come to see it. There's nothing like it of its scope."

No. 3 Ted Ciano
About: Ted Ciano is the former owner of Key Ford and current owner of Mr. C's Car, Truck & SUV Center. He became known as the "Dean of Car City." Ciano, who started his career as a mechanic in Akron, Ohio, bought Key Ford in 1967 and sold it in 1999. He's also a developer, partnering in the $6.5 million Sorrento Plaza.

What achievement are you most proud of?: "I can think of several but Miracle League and Escambia Westgate School's Snoezelen Center are the two major ones. From the beginning, I've always worked with kids. I started with the Boys Club in the '70s, opening up three places, sponsoring ball teams and everything. But the main two are working with those kids from Miracle League and Westgate. The kids are real outstanding. I remember the first time I got involved up there in putting on a tournament and raising money for (Westgate). The school called me and said they wanted to see me. I got there and about seven kids were holding up a sign that said, 'We love you Mr. C.' It breaks you up."

No. 4 Jim Reeves
About: Jim Reeves is currently an attorney and developer. He's one of the partners in the $20 million Hawkshaw East development near Gulf Power Co. headquarters, which plans to put homes and businesses on the site. He's also co-founder of McGuire's Irish Politicians Club. Reeves served three terms in the state House from 1966 to 1972 and also served three-terms as a member of the Pensacola City Council  from 1977 to 1983.

What achievement are you most proud of?: "In my first term in the House in the 1967 session, we worked to create the Historic Pensacola Preservation Board. We were also able to get a $100,000 donation. We worked all session long on it and it passed 118-1. Reubin Askew was in the Senate then and he was so thrilled that he ran over to tell me my bill passed the Senate unanimously. Everything you see down there now was created by that historic district."

No. 5 Lewis Bear Jr.
About: Lewis Bear Jr. is president of the Anheuser-Busch distributorship Lewis Bear Co., which is one of the area's oldest firms. It was founded by his great-grandfather in 1877. His lifelong commitment to the community helped him earn a Pensacola Area Chamber of Commerce Pace Award in 2001.

Achievements: There doesn't seem a cause, organization or political candidate that Bear doesn't generously donate to. Recently, as co-chair of the Heart Ball with his wife Belle, they raised $300,000 for about 100 heart defibrillators for local agencies. But Bear is most recognized for his association with the Pensacola Museum of Art, which his parents, along with two other couples, took over and turned into an art center back in the 1950s.

Who's The Man?
The Independent News surveyed a handful of community leaders. Here are the 50 most influential and powerful people in the Pensacola area. If not, who have we left off the list?

Fred Levin, trial attorney and founder Levin Papantonio Thomas Mitchell Echsner & Proctor
Lacey Collier, U.S. District Court judge; chairman Community Maritime Park Associates
Ted Ciano, owner Ted Ciano's Used Car Center
Jim Reeves, attorney and developer; co-founder McGuire's Irish Politicians Club; former state representative and Pensacola City Councilman
Lewis Bear Jr., president Lewis Bear Co.
Ernie Lee Magaha, Clerk of the Escambia County Circuit Court & Comptroller
Collier Merrill, developer Merrill Land Co.; restaurant owner The Fish House and Atlas Oyster House
Quint Studer, owner Studer Group and Pensacola Pelicans
Jim Cronley, partner and general contractor Terhaar & Cronley
J. Mort O'Sullivan III, managing partner O'Sullivan Creel

Buzz Ritchie, CEO Gulf Coast Community Bank; chairman Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce
Garrett Walton, attorney and developer
Fred Donovan, CEO Baskerville-Donovan Engineering
Charles Carlan, branch manager Hatch Mott MacDonald
Arlin Horton, founder Pensacola Christian College; owner A Beka Book publishing
Susan Story, president and CEO Gulf Power Co.
Patrick Madden, president and CEO Sacred Heart Health System
McGuire Martin, owner McGuire's Irish Pub; former member Santa Rosa Island Authority board.
Joe Scarborough, host MSNBC "Scarborough Country"; former U.S. congressman
Bob Kerrigan, trial attorney and founder, Kerrigan, Estess, Rankin, McLeod and Thompson

Neal Nash, developer
Dick Baker, developer
A. Downing Gray, business executive, two-time Walker Cup captain
George Touart, Escambia County administrator   
Al Stubblefield, president and CEO Baptist Health Care Corporation
Ron McNesby, Escambia County sheriff
Kevin Doyle, publisher Pensacola News Journal
DeeDee Ritchie, real estate broker, former state representative
Lois Benson, board member Emerald Coast Utility Authority; former city councilwoman and state representative
Griswold Family, Santa Rosa County farmers; U.S. Congressman Jeff Miller's in-laws

Eric Nickelsen, developer
Ellis Bullock III, president E.W. Bullock Associates
Dick Appleyard, president Appleyard Agency; vice president/marketing Sacred Heart Health System
Miller Caldwell Jr., architect Caldwell Associates Architects
Ted Traylor, pastor Olive Baptist Church
John Carr, developer
Ray Russenberger, marina owner and developer
Jerry Maygarden, president Baptist Health Care Foundation; owner J. L. Maygarden Co.; former majority leader Florida House; former Pensacola mayor and councilman
Bo Johnson, developer, former speaker of the Florida House
Bobby Switzer, vice president/operations Lamar Advertising

Tom Bonfield, Pensacola city manager
Debbie Ritchie, director of operations Studer Group; former state representative
Dan Gilmore, developer, past president of Florida Home Builders Association
Bill Pullum, developer
Ken Ford, founder and director Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition
John Cavanaugh, president University of West Florida
Mike Whitehead, Escambia County commissioner
Marie Young, Escambia County commissioner
Jack Nobles, senior vice president Bank of Pensacola; Pensacola city councilman
Ed Gray III, executive director Gulf Breeze Financial Services; Santa Rosa County School board member District 5; former Gulf Breeze mayor